From Our Teen Readers
April 03, 2015 4:01 pm

Exclusive: 
Excluding certain people or groups, as for social or economic reasons: an exclusive club.
Snobbish; undemocratic.

Inclusive:
Something that does not leave any part or group out.

For some reason, in our society, the word “exclusive” always seems to be used in a positive context. In reality, the word “inclusive” should be the more positive word though.

Cliques are everywhere. It doesn’t matter your age: Social exclusion is all around us. It isn’t exactly bullying, but it can be just as painful. For example, it hurts to see Instagram pictures of a party that you weren’t invited to or to be the new person at school and have nobody make an effort to get to know you. Even though we try to act tough and may say we don’t care what other people think, most of us strive to be likable.

Personally, I didn’t notice cliques much when I was younger, but looking back, I see they were forming. I managed to drift from group to group and get along with most everyone, and I didn’t feel the need to “fit in” or be “popular.” As I became a teenager though, things changed. Everyone was divided off into little groups with people just like themselves.

I feel like I should mention that I’m not “normal”; in fact, I’m pretty different in just about every way you could imagine. I’m homeschooled, I’ve sung with a rock band since I was 11, and I have pink hair. As a homeschooler, I’ve always been involved in homeschool co-ops. A co-op is a group of families who meet, usually once a week, for classes. Through that group, other social activities are planned — things like field trips and get togethers. In the homeschool groups, some families weren’t really sure what to think of me. I wasn’t just excluded by some of the kids, but also moms. I remember once, when I was trying to attend a small group event and a mother explained that I wasn’t going to be included. “My daughter and I have discussed it, and we’ve decided to include Rhyan in some larger group activities.” Those are words actually spoken from another homeschool mom to my mom. And we were supposed to be grateful.

Every time I think about that, it makes me cringe. Why did there need to be the differentiation? Every now and then, I was invited to something and I got along with everyone, but it was always clear that I wasn’t part of that inner circle. Thankfully, I never cared about fitting in, but I hated seeing other people treated that way. In fact, one of my closest friends when I joined the co-op was a girl who was very much on the outside of the group. My friendship with her caused some problems between me and the other kids, but I wasn’t about to betray her just to be a part of their group. I’ve always been fortunate to have a few good friends who were always there for me, but they were in regular school, so I was sort of on my own a lot.

Obviously, I have insecurities, but I’m pretty confident in my weirdness and I didn’t let the exclusion get to me too much. Still, someone with less confidence could be really hurt by that kind of exclusion. I’ve been talking to other teens about their experiences with exclusion lately and a common thread was that there are always those cliques that seem to like keeping others on the outside to make themselves seem more cool. A girl I talked to said she used to get bullied a lot by “preps” and others and was excluded from “basically everything” because she was friends with less “popular” people. She chose not to leave those friends behind, but felt bad about being excluded all the time. One girl said she encountered social exclusion many times, even in organized groups with great reputations like Girl Scouts. Another described herself as an outcast with few friends, who wanted to be a part of the popular crowd and felt bad about being left out.

It would be great to see things shift from “exclusive” to “inclusive.” Reading stories in the news about teen suicides absolutely breaks my heart. One suicide in particular, a 12-year-old girl victim of bullying in a nearby city, really affected me. When I read about that girl, I knew I wanted to do something to help other girls like her who were feeling isolated and helpless. It also made me wonder, could one person have made a difference? This is why I’m asking you to reach out to that new kid at school or maybe the kid who you always see in the hallway, but you’ve never talked to. They might feel alone and they might need a friend and you have the power to make them feel better. You could make their day, make a difference in their life or possibly even save it.

I want to learn about different people: People of different ages and cultures, people with a different music taste than mine or a unique sense of style. If you only socialize with one group of people, then you will end up missing out on a lot. That’s why I feel so strongly about promoting inclusion.

I’m not saying you should forget the great and loyal friends you have, but to make sure you don’t forget to keep making new ones and simply be kind. In all the exclusion and division, it’s easy to forget that we’re all humans with great stories to be told and beautiful secrets to be shared, but will you stop and listen? I challenge everyone reading this to make an effort to talk to someone you’ve never talked to before. When you’re deciding on who to invite to your party, add a few people who aren’t in your immediate circle of friends. Don’t worry about being part of that one most popular clique. Don’t stress over trying to fit in. You be the person to start the change.

There’s no instruction manual on how to become more inclusive. I challenge you to put inclusion into practice in some way in your life.

I’ve found that even within the music community, there can be cliques and exclusion, though it may not be intentional. We tend to gravitate towards people who are in our particular genre or age group. I’ve started a project called The Living Room Sessions, where I invite artists in all types of music to collaborate with me on a song in their genre for a series of house concerts. Not only will I get to explore new types of music, but I’ll get to meet wonderful people, and we can expose our audiences to music they might not hear otherwise. This spirit of collaboration and inclusion is my first step toward making a difference.

On a final note, if you’re being excluded and feeling hopeless, I encourage you to talk to someone about it. Confide in a family member or someone you trust. Exclusion is lonely, but never forget there are people who care.

Rhyan Sinclair is a writer and YouTuber by day and front girl for the band All the Little Pieces by night. She’s also obsessed with unicorns, sloths, Hayao Miyazaki and Jack White.

(Image via.)

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